L.R. Wright (1939-2001)

 

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Author L.R. Wright (“Bunny” to family, friends and colleagues) resided in Calgary only from 1970 to 1977.  However, she honed her writing skills here, as journalist and under the mentorship of W.O. Mitchell – and she developed into an acclaimed writer, nationally and internationally. A Chatelaine article labelled her “Canada’s Queen of Crime Fiction.” Her crime series has often been compared to P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, no less! Her books delve deeply into character and human behavior. She was quoted as saying that she wanted to write fiction “…because you can tell more truths in fiction”.

Born to write, by age 14 Bunny realized that a novelist couldn’t necessarily earn a living and decided instead on a career in journalism. She took secretarial courses to learn to type and enrolled in night classes in creative and non-fiction writing. At 19, she sold her first article to the Globe and Mail about what it was like to be a teenager in Germany.

In 1959, she found a job at the small-town British Columbia weekly, the Fraser Valley Record. Although she loved newspaper work, she decided California was the place to live, found a job in an advertising agency and became involved in amateur theatre productions. In 1961 Bunny returned to Vancouver to attend the UBC Summer School of Theatre, where she met John Wright. They both performed with Canada’s first touring theatre company for young audiences, before marrying in 1962.

As in her growing-up years, her family was nomadic, following job opportunities from city to city throughout western Canada and California. Bunny worked at odd jobs, putting her husband through graduate studies in drama at Stanford and raising two daughters. She didn’t return to journalism for almost ten years, until 1968, when the family moved to Saskatoon and she worked as a reporter for the Star-Phoenix.

A year later the Wrights moved to Calgary where Bunny worked as a reporter for the Albertan and the Herald, and later as Assistant City Editor at the Herald. Johnna Wright wrote the following:

“It’s my impression that our time in Calgary had a great impact on Mom’s development as a writer. The Calgary Herald supported her to study fiction writing under W.O. Mitchell at the Banff School of Fine Arts, and it was after that that she completed her first novel.  She always said that being a journalist had a huge impact on her fiction writing…  It made her an extremely conscientious researcher and fact-checker, and also taught her to meet deadlines.”

L.R. Wright shared her writing techniques in an article “The Truths of Fiction” (Books in Canada, April 1992). “W.O. Mitchell has a way of teaching that he calls ‘freefall’. It’s stream of consciousness: you sit at the typewriter and just kind of write. And I found that very freeing.” Even so, she was still stuck until she phoned her husband and he advised her to pretend she was someone else, just as when she was an actress. Another W.O. Mitchell technique is called “sense memory” where one tries to recall an incident, second by second, drawing on all five senses to evoke it. Bunny said, “That is what I learned in Banff, and I have been using it ever since.”

The family then moved to Edmonton, and Bunny was able to leave journalism and write. She won the Alberta Culture Search-for-a-New Novelist competition, which allowed her to work with an editor at MacMillan to complete and publish her manuscript. Neighbours is about a mentally disturbed woman and the people around her. Much like Alfred Hitchcock stories, what is disturbing or terrifying is that the settings and people seem “everyday”. As Western Canadian readers, especially, we know these characters and settings and people very well – or do we?

Soon after, the family moved to a suburb of Vancouver, where the family stayed. Wright’s next two novels, The Favorite and Among Friends, were published by Doubleday in 1982 and 1984. These provided income but they were not well received by literary critics.

It was with her fourth novel, The Suspect, that Bunny achieved national and international attention as a crime novelist, winning the 1986 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. It was translated into 8 languages and optioned for movie rights. The book was the catalyst for the Karl Arlberg and subsequent Edwina Henderson series. She continued to write mainstream novels but they never did as well as the mystery novels.

 After publishing The Suspect, L.R. Wright completed an MA degree, taught writing extensively, travelled across Canada and the U.S. promoting her books and attending conferences, served as Chair of the Crime Writers of Canada. She was a juror for numerous literary awards and granting bodies. L.R. Wright’s novels have been published in Canada, the USA, Great Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain and Sweden. She wrote adaptations of several of her books for CBC Radio drama and for film and television, often in collaboration with John Wright. Her daughter Johnna Wright is currently working on a stage adaptation of The Suspect.

Janet Halls presented the Calgary writer L.R. Wright on October 20, 2015

Marda Loop Fireside Chat Feb 8

Is this serendipity, or what?

Having just discovered Shaun Hunter’s blog on Calgary through writers’ eyes, Carol Blyth shared this event with local authors Sharon Butala, Brian Brennan and Ruth Scalp Lock, to be moderated by Shaun Hunter on February 8.

Full disclosure: I know Shaun and she is worth meeting in her own right! Janet Halls

To check out this opportunity, click here! Marda Loop Fireside Chat Feb 8

Totally Hilarious Will Ferguson

What better way to start 2016 than to adventure to The Source of The Nile with Will Ferguson? Get ready to laugh out loud (…again, if you were lucky enough to join Flora’s CWLC presentation in November!).

Click here for the Calgary Herald’s hilarious excerpt from Road Trip Rwanda

Will Ferguson presented by Flora Spackman

Your Webnovice Janet recommends that you never miss an opportunity to hear Will Ferguson, live! 

Mr. Ferguson is arguably one of the most successful writers in Canada today.  He is well-known for his humourous observations on Canadian history and culture.  He has written 18 books in three different genres: Canadian history and observations, novels and travel writing.  He has won awards for his books in each of these genres.  Flora talked about each one of these categories and read excerpts from various books to give us an idea of Ferguson’s writing:  Why I Hate Canadians, The Penguin Anthology of Canadian Humour, Bastards and Boneheads:  Canada’s Glorious Leaders Past and Present (affectionately now known in our book club as “B&B”), Canadian Pie, Canadian History for Dummies, The Girlfriend’s Guide to Hockey, Happiness TM,  and Road Trip Rwanda.  We laughed.  We cried.  A 6 minute television interview with Mr. Ferguson about his book, Road Trip Rowanda, was shown.

The video magically appears here!

 

Poet and U of C Writer-in-Residence

Photo of Nick Thran from CBC News, The Calgary Eyeopener August 28, 2015

Nick Thran, CBC News, The Calgary Eyeopener August 28, 2015

On November 3, we were delighted to have as our guest speaker Mr. Nick Thran, author of three books of poetry and this year’s University of Calgary Writer-in-Residence. A native of Prince George BC, he received his Masters of Fine Arts from New York University (NYU). Currently he is poetry editor for Brick Books. He is married to poet Sue Sinclair and they have a young daughter.

We were given an interesting glimpse into the mind of a poet, as Mr. Thran talked about motivations and behind-the-scenes efforts of writing poetry. As a child, his family moved a great deal and he experienced intense feelings as a teen which he was able to express through poetry.

He discussed the importance of finding images which resonate in one’s life so as to be able to fit these intense images into writing. For example, he carried an image of a flooded river in the south of Spain when he was 16 years old. The ripe oranges from the local orchards had spilled over into the flooded river and this image stayed with him. Years later, when he read Ezra Pound’s poem, “In the Station of the Metro,”  the memory of the oranges resonated and he was able to make a connection and write a poem.

While still a young man, Nick Thran had the opportunity to work in a book store and was allowed to take home all the books he wanted as long as he returned them the next day in pristine condition. This afforded him the freedom to read a huge variety of books. He feels that he became a better poet by reading broadly.  While taking his Masters at NYU, he was influenced greatly by a professor of journalism, Lawrence Weschler.

His wife, Sue Sinclair, is a poet. He read one line from one of her poems – “side by side with eternity, but never touch” – the comma is extremely important! He taught us that poets spend a great deal of time dealing with the microscope of the language in a tactile way.

We were fortunate to hear Nick Thran read several of his poems:

  • “Azucar” (sugar)
  • “Marginalia”
  • A poem from the book, Earworm, “Coastguard vessel pleasure boat” in which each line was taken from headlines of Globe and Mail newspaper articles
  • “The Particular Melon” is from his newest book, Mayor Snow, about two fictional people having a conversation about making a film about a melon

And he read an excerpt from an essay, “My Library.”

After time for questions from the audience, Anne Tingle thanked Nick Thran for helping us de-construct poetry.

 

Thanks, Flora, for the summary below!

This photograph and more information on Suzette Mayr can be found through the link: Coach House Books

Doloris gave an extremely interesting presentation on the Calgary author, Suzette Mayr (pronounced Meyer.)  In a very gentle and diplomatic way, Doloris indicated that she generally did not enjoy Mayr’s books, she was “not in love with her books, though there are parts she enjoyed of all her books, but not the whole thing.”

The plots are quite complicated – not linear. Mayr’s writing voice is coarse and raw; Mayr deploys animal, body and refuse metaphors, an array of body fluids and odours constantly assails the reader, she seems to have a curious obsession with toilets and garbage.

Doloris feels that reading Mayr is one of the best part of CWLC – we are challenged to read literature we may not enjoy or would have chosen to read.  And Doloris read all of her books FOUR TIMES.

Mayr has won many awards for her writing.

Suzette Mayr:

  • born in Calgary
  • German father/Afro-Caribbean mother
  • grew up in the 80’s
  • became a reader in Grade 6
  • went to University with Doloris’ daughter
  • Honours Degree in English
  • Masters at U of A
  • Came out as a lesbian 1990
  • Currently an associate professor at the University of Calgary
  • She is very active in the LGBTQ movement
  • She is currently working on her Ph.D.

Mayr’s writing philosophy

  • “Document your place and time as a writer.”
  • Objects to censorship
  • Major themes are race, ethnicity, sexuality, ageing, and individuality
  • She rewrites her novels 6-7 times.

Doloris read the poem:  Zebra – about mixed race individuals

Moon Honey (novel)

–Theme:  race relations in Alberta and transformation

The Widows (novel) — Doloris read an excerpt

–Themes:  aging, sexuality, race/multi-culturalism

–extremely non-traditional characters

–based on the true story of Annie Edson Taylor – first woman to go over Niagara Falls “Queen of the Mist”

Venous Hum

–gothic/vampires/gore

–This novel has been described as a “jolt of one-of-a-kind creativity”

–Venous Hum title refers to  the jugular vein

–Mayr deconstructs the Canadian identity

Moon Rising (Doloris read an excerpt)

–The story is about the suicide of young boy

–theme:  high suicide rate among LGBT teens

–took 8 years to finish writing the book – and she was exhausted

Doloris met with Suzette Mayr for coffee.  Interestingly, Mayr hadn’t thought of Doloris’ analysis of Niagara Falls in the way Doloris suggested – that Niagara Falls in her novel could be looked at as a Canadian icon, symbolic of the sister’s stormy life.  Doloris invited Suzette to attend the presentation, but unfortunately for us she was out of town.

Doloris encouraged us to read these books!

Helle Kraav thanked Doloris for a delightful presentation, reminding us that Deloris deserves a medal for reading all the books four times!

Discussion:

  • Why did she get so many awards when her writing is so “difficult?”  Suzette Mayr is a very good writer. There is so much in her books.
  • The name choices in her books are very interesting!
  • Cecilia Krupa took a creative writing class with Suzette Mayr under Aritha Van Herk .   Aritha Van Herk was a very influential mentor to Suzette.  She was a very sweet girl.

Doloris has invited Suzette Mayr to her home for dinner and she is looking forward to pursing a conversation about the craft of writing.

Calgary Poet, Christopher Stephen Wiseman joined in!

Lillian Tickles has really upped the bar when it comes to presentations at CWLC. Not only did she do a presentation on this poet; She even invited him to attend to read his poetry. What a coup for everyone! Bravo, Lillian!

Christopher Wiseman

Christopher Stephen Wiseman

1933 –

A resident of Calgary and winner of several awards in the literary arts, Christopher Wiseman was a unanimous choice on our list of critically acclaimed local writers to be reviewed and discussed in our CWLC program for 2015 – 16.

Since poetry is enjoying a resurgence on my “reading for pleasure” menu of options, I happily volunteered to explore his life and work. The research has been most rewarding.

The following selective anthologies of his poems provide a basis from which to draw some insight.

  • 36 Cornelian Avenue
  • In John Updike’s Room
  • An Ocean of Whispers
  • The Upper Hand
  • Remembering Mr. Fox
  • Crossing the Salt Flats

Recognition for his poetic contributions has come from both sides of the Atlantic.

Born in the United Kingdom just prior to WW II, Wiseman spent two years in the RAF before attending Cambridge University where he achieved both a BA and an MA. Many of his poems stem from remembered experiences in British settings…bombed villages, schools, playgrounds, pubs, churches. Further educational pursuits took him to the University of Iowa, where he obtained his PhD under the influence of friend and mentor, Donald Justice. While there, he met and married Jean Laytem with whom he had two sons. Recalled places in the heartland of America are preserved and celebrated in his writing.

The major portion of Wiseman’s career unfolded at the U of C. His arrival in the English department resulted in the development of the Creative Writing program with classes for credit in writing poetry. Several from his class lists have become recognized writers. His ability to motivate and mentor did not go unnoticed. He won an excellence in teaching award which he acknowledges as a highlight of his career.

My travels through a significant itinerary of Wiseman’s work have been moving and inspiring. He has a remarkable talent for drawing the reader into each poem. It is easy to relate to the people, the places and the time depicted. Scenes come to life in three-dimensional clarity. In many instances the reader feels compelled to read a poem aloud. Because family was extremely important to him, several selections are dedicated to “mother, father, sons, grandparents and wife.” To the reader, they are valued new acquaintances.

Throughout his collections, Wiseman seems to be seeking a balance between “what I was and what I am.” The pieces in that quest have come together through the pen of an adult Canadian poet reclaiming images of people, places and events from his life’s memory landscape. Some perceptions of his past encounters have to be re-evaluated. Feelings about them shift in intensity. In some poems that shift occurs in the last stanza or the last line. The “what I am” part of the balance is still unfolding as he continues to write, to play a role on various juries that critique literary submissions, and to have his work broadcast nationally and internationally, to keep in touch with former students, and to give countless readings to groups such as us.